'Pariah: The Lives and Deaths of Sonny Liston' Review: Film captures boxing legend's meteoric rise and tries explaining his sudden death
Sonny Liston has no record of his birth. And there's account of his death. Liston was an enigma. In just over half a dozen years, he climbed the rungs steadily in the boxing world by claiming Floyd Patterson's heavyweight title with that epic first-round knockout. Later, he was alleged to have been selling heroin in Las Vegas. Follow this up with news of him dying of reported OD at his Ottawa Drive home— something that is widely believed to have actually been murder, Liston's life is a puzzle. More complex than an intricate jigsaw set.
Showtime manages to capture Liston's moments perfectly in 'Pariah: The Lives and Deaths of Sonny Liston'. His rise to fame was meteoric and his fall from the top was equally tragic. The man was born sometime around 1930 and was working in the fields when he was eight. That was also the time he was subjected to physical torture and he spent the growing up years in prison after being convicted of armed robbery. The prison was also where Liston donned his gloves and go on to turn pro. The year was 1953 and his contract was reigned by deadly mobsters back in the day — John Vitale, Frankie Carbo and Frank “Blinky” Palermo.
The film also sheds light on his loss to Cassius Clay in '64 as well as the rematch. The defeats came under immense scrutiny for was rumored to have been rigged. In addition to his boxing ringside of life, there was his personal life that was captured as well. His final pro fight gets some explanation and his life with wife, Geraldine is outlined and so is her description of his death. Gandy is also the source of the lurid description of Liston’s body, found at his home on January 5, 1971, when Geraldine returned from a trip.
In what could be termed as the most tragic of narrations, Geraldine says the following about his death: "It didn’t even look like Liston, he’d been dead for so long. He’d been dead four or five days. He was bloated. He was full of methane gas. It really made me sick to my stomach because he was such a predominant figure in the sports world. I just thought it was a terrible, disrespectful way for him to go." While ODing was looked at as the cause, friends have a different say as they claimed the boxer was scared of needles and wouldn't have taken that route.
The 90-minute film also skims at the tales of revenge against him by local drug dealers, the mobs and some surprising names as suspects. 'The Lives and Deaths of Sonny Liston' leaves us with enough questions to ponder over by the time the credits come in. Who wanted him dead? Who didn't? Why and what would they get out of it?
And like we said, after all this, Liston remains an enigma.
'Pariah: The Lives and Deaths of Sonny Liston' premieres November 15 on Showtime.